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Monday, November 14, 2011

Melancholia

The opening prelude to Lars Von Triers' new film, 'Melancholia,' is kind of stunning.

The movie, I think, is about depression. I mean, with a name like 'Melancholia,' and a plot involving the end of all life in the universe, it would have to be about depression, right?

'Melancholia' takes its name from a planet that [spoiler alert!] smashes into Earth. The only person in the film remotely prepared for this unfortunate outcome is Kirsten Dunst's character, Justine--and Justine is a chronically depressed, happy-to-die type.

When the planets collide, it's Justine who helps those around her prepare for the snuffing out of all life in the universe. It is Justine who brings people to peace and acceptance. It is Justine who, at the end of it all, is at the end of it all.

So. About depression. People have depression. It's a terrible thing to have. I am certain that people suffering from depression do, in fact, wish that the world as we know it would go away. Stuck in bed, it must be terrible to know there is no reason whatsoever for one to get up and go see the Sistine Chapel, or walk down the block to buy milk, or lean slightly to the left and turn on the radio. Those who suffer from depression must think--only sometimes!--that it'd be better for the world to stop existing than for themselves to move one inch more.

I don't suffer from depression. I know a few people who do, however, and it is true: it is a terrible, horrible, debilitating illness that uses your logical mind against you. It is like being on your own planet--Melancholia, say--and smashing that planet into another planet which has all the things you know and love--we'll say Earth.

Depression is like destroying everything you know and leaving a vast emptiness of unknowable things. It is like taking planet Melancholia and using it to destroy the Sistine Chapel, milk, and radio.

There are many people in my life who are depressed. I wish they weren't depressed, but.. you know. There it is. There they are. They are depressed in ways I can't help them (and I'm thinking of 'Melancholia' again, and of Justine's sister Claire trying to convince Justine to take a bath).

Sometimes, I think the only logical thing is to be depressed. Hope is a thing with feathers, and all that. Life sucks. But! Life is kind of wonderful as well.

In 'Melancholia,' Justine says that she knows there is no other life in the universe. That the only life in all the universe is on Earth. Think of that! The only art the universe knows is what art we humans have created. The only trash TV is what we've managed to put into the air. The only people who care about Jesus or Gandhi or Buddha or Steve Jobs are us. The Mona Lisa, Sondheim, Hamlet, 'Pulp Fiction... doesn't matter.

I don't have depression. I know some who do. And it's a terrible thing to say, but the reason I don't have depression is this:

REBECCA:
I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.

GEORGE:
What's funny about that?

REBECCA:
But listen, it's not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God--that's what it said on the envelope.

GEORGE:
What do you know! 


REBECCA:
And the postman brought it just the same.



That's a passage from 'Our Town,' the 'Melancholia' of its time. It's always cheered me, that passage, because it reminds me that in an infinite universe, my small place in it has little effect or meaning--so might as well enjoy it.



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